Lionel Messi given oxygen ahead of game after being pictured at medical centre

Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates have been given oxygen canisters as they prepare for a gruelling World Cup qualifier in the extreme altitude of Bolivia, but there are fitness concerns for the Inter Miami superstar. The 36-year-old scored a trademark free-kick to defeat Ecuador in the final minutes on Thursday, but he was soon substituted and head coach Lionel Scaloni confirmed his main man had picked up an injury.

Messi, who is pivotal to Inter Miami’s slim hopes of reaching the MLS playoffs, is a doubt to feature in La Paz on Tuesday due to the undisclosed issue. He was seen leaving the IMAXE medical centre on Saturday after being checked over by specialists, although Scaloni still hopes Messi can play some part in the second game of Argentina’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

To prepare for the game at Estadio Hernando Siles, Argentina’s players have been given oxygen tubes to help deal with the effects of the altitude. The stadium is 3,637 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest stadiums on the planet and the Argentina players are sure to be gasping for air at times during the game. Brazil icon Neymar described the conditions as “inhumane” during a 2018 visit.

Liverpool midfielder Alexis Mac Allister shared a picture on Instagram from the team bus with his face pressed into the mask attached to his canister. Tottenham defender Cristian Romero was also seen holding one of the tubes when he left the bus.

The inherent home advantage of being accustomed to the conditions in La Paz has traditionally aided Bolivia, although they have not won any of their past three games on home soil, and they were thrashed 5-1 on the road in Brazil on Saturday.

Messi’s sensational 78th-minute free-kick was the difference between the teams in Buenos Aires on Thursday, continuing his stellar form over the past 12 months, which has included a World Cup triumph and taking America by storm with his move to Inter Miami.

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Messi has transformed the fortunes of a club that was bottom of the Eastern Conference when he debuted in July, winning the Leagues Cup before going on a four-game unbeaten streak in MLS. But news of an injury is sure to have caused concern in South Florida, although Scaloni did not seem overly concerned during his pregame press conference.

“Messi is going to travel to Bolivia,” he said. “He trained differently (than the rest of the team), but there are still two days left until the game and we will make the decision tomorrow whether he plays or not. The team is going to be similar to the one that played against Ecuador.”

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